Statement of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC)

The celebrated third millennium has arrived, but far too many of our children are living in deplorable conditions all around the world. Countless children find themselves trapped in unlivable circumstances, whether rich or poor. So many are losing their lives to easily preventable disease or malnutrition, and others are being murdered in armed conflicts. Intolerable numbers will die from HIV/AIDS before they reach adulthood. Even more intolerable numbers will suffer discrimination, hostility, hatred and violence, just because of who they are.
Yet, children are the inheritors of the Earth and the most precious treasure humanity has. This list of travesties simply should not be.
In grief, alarm and shared responsibility for this unbearable situation, some 300 religious leaders and grassroots workers from every major world religion – including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto and Zoroastrianism – gathered from 33 countries and regions in May 2000 to inaugurate the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), at its First Forum in Tokyo, Japan.
The GNRC Statement issued at the Forum began with the words of the poet, Rabindranath Tagore – “Every child born comes with a message that God has not yet despaired of humankind.” Transcending the differences among our various religions, we, the members of the GNRC, affirmed in the Statement our common conviction that each child bears the very hope and promise of the future of the Earth. We also acknowledged with remorse that religious people have often failed to put into practice the deepest insights of our own religious traditions into the dignity of the child. Finally, we offered concrete proposals for action by people of faith and others – cooperative action to build a better environment for children in the 21st century.

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Since that time, we have engaged in further dialogue and gained experience with concrete inter-faith initiatives, and consulted with supporters of these initiatives in various fields. Now, on this vital occasion of the Special Session on Children of the United Nations General Assembly, this experience compels us to declare our conviction that the truest and most reliable foundation on which to build a world fit for children is the universal religious insight that the sacred and inviolable dignity of each child flows from his or her being a sacred gift of the Divine Presence.

It must be recognized in this august forum – the United Nations – that, just as the child has his or her being in the local contexts of the family, the community, and the nation – the being of the child also has a global dimension. Locally, we adults pass on values, traditions and culture to children; but in the global dimension, it is the child who sustains our hopes and keeps the potential for peace alive. Without recognizing, protecting and celebrating the divinely rooted dignity of the child, our world will never be fit for children, and “the human spirit” itself will be in danger of extinction. Indeed, our children are the future of a human Earth. Every practical endeavor undertaken for children should proceed from this fundamental appreciation of the infinitely precious value of every child.

But the horrible terrorist attacks that occurred here last September, and the events that have followed, including the military strikes on Afghanistan and the terrible violations of peace, dignity and love which are currently taking place in the Middle East, would reject the priceless future of the child – indeed, they have threatened the very foundations of human dignity. This deterioration of the environment surrounding our children is a warning to all the Earth.

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Thus, it is with grave and heartfelt concern that we – people from all the world’s great religions and so many of its nations – commit ourselves, in solidarity, to pursue the following three vital courses of action. We do so because we recognize that the world is losing its moral and spiritual moorings – and we know that such a world cannot be fit for children. We do so also in recognition of the terrible burden children bear as a result of what the Secretary-General of the United Nations describes as desperate and inexcusable impoverishment (UN Secretary-General’s Report We, the Children). We shall:

1.    Implement Global Ethics Education for Children

We will establish a “Council on Global Ethics Education for Children” consisting of people of faith, educators and others. Its mandate will be to work in cooperation with the United Nations to make the development of spirituality in children – including ethical values, esteem for people of different religions and civilizations, and faith in the Divine – an essential part of the “quality education” pledged in the Special Session Outcome Document, “A World Fit for Children.” Our efforts will focus on the critically important primary school years.

There is nothing more needed in the hearts and minds of our children today than ethical values rooted in human dignity, respect for different religions and civilizations, and faith in the Divine. Contemporary education, which tends to overemphasize facts and knowledge and leave out the nurture of an abundant heart in the child, has contributed to various social problems, such as juvenile delinquency. The values children have will determine the character and quality of the Earth they – and their children – will inherit. We believe that children whose hearts are spiritually rich enough to have faith and esteem for diversity will be able to bring about significant change in the world of the 21st century. Since ethics and religion are so closely intertwined, it is clear that religious people, particularly the GNRC as an interfaith catalyst, can and must play a significant role in helping our children to develop these truly human virtues.

We propose that the core of the Council on Global Ethics Education for Children be comprised of the GNRC, international organizations such as UNESCO and UNICEF, and people working in the field of education. This core group will work out the conceptual framework and the strategy for implementation of this global-scale project, which will be implemented primarily through the initiative of grassroots people of faith working in cooperation with educators in each country. As the first step, countries in which this project appears feasible will be carefully selected for action including: (1) incorporation of appropriate ethics education in primary school curriculums; and (2) incorporation of ethics education into the media. It is hoped that, based on the results of the pilot projects in those countries, global ethics education can gradually be implemented in an increasing number of countries, and that this initiative will ultimately develop into a worldwide movement that can change the moral landscape of the globe.

This initiative will help equip children with the knowledge and skills needed to empower them to promote attitudes and values such as global solidarity, peace, respect for diversity, tolerance, social justice and environmental awareness among their peers, and thus to bring about change in their own lives and in their communities, both locally and globally. In this sense, we believe that this ethics education should constitute a core part of the “Education for Development” advocated by UNICEF.

Spiritual values such as faith, ethics and justice will be manifested in reverence for the Divine Presence and respect for the diversity of cultures and traditions that make up the wealth of world civilization. This is what our children deserve to learn.

2.    Pursue Fundamental Solutions to the Problem of Poverty

We vow to further strengthen our efforts for the eradication of poverty, which is the root cause of the deteriorating environment that children face, giving attention not only to external causes but also to those that stem from the human heart, thus realizing fundamental solutions.

It is clear that poverty is one of the chief obstacles to implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It leads to violations of children’s rights such as infant mortality, malnutrition, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDS, child labor, homelessness, and educational deprivation.

While we understand poverty as a complex, socio-economic phenomenon, we maintain that it is also necessary to recognize that it has a spiritual dimension. It is obvious that material poverty obstructs the sound physical development of the child. But it also creates for the child a brutal environment, in which life is reduced to a struggle for daily survival between many impoverished people fighting and competing for insufficient goods and services. In this sense, material poverty presents an unfair challenge to the manifestation of human physical and spiritual holiness, the innate potential for which lives originally inside each human being.

Children living in poverty are robbed of educational opportunity, and as a result, after becoming adults, can obtain only a minimal livelihood. When their children are born, reborn with them is the vicious cycle of impoverishment.

Recent economic globalization is making this process of impoverishment even more rapid and far-reaching, allowing unprecedented richness for a few and leaving increasing numbers of people behind in absolute poverty. Unfortunately, our free market economies today are often characterized by two manifestations of spiritual poverty – exclusive preoccupation with self and its corresponding lack of concern for the disadvantaged, and the heart of greed that pursues excessive personal wealth regardless of the consequences for others – which are distorting socioeconomic structures and impoverishing whole societies.

The problem of poverty is thus a multidimensional phenomenon. It has material, economic, social, psychological and spiritual aspects, and is complicated by intergenerational processes and structural factors. It is essential to take a comprehensive approach that maximizes synergies among the many fronts of the fight to put an end to poverty.

If children are to be truly free from its grip, we must break the cycle of impoverishment being handed down through the generations. A transformation of the values in the international community that perpetrate the ongoing existence of human suffering from poverty is desperately needed. Children themselves can be the liberators of the future. That is why it is essential that families, societies and governments create conditions of justice now in which all children – both girls and boys – receive the early developmental care they need and can exercise their right to a good quality basic education. Environments that give full play to children’s innate abilities – including their spirituality – must be fostered and sustained. Children that grow up in these conditions will in turn contribute more positive values to the international community. International values that emphasize concern for the rights of children in all sectors of society need to be cultivated to assist individual societies to create these conditions for children.

As international organizations and NGOs tackle the eradication of poverty in their various fields, religious people, with the mission to change the world starting with the heart – from the inside-out – have a unique contribution to make in the area of education. We believe we can play a particularly effective role in the peace and health education that are so essential in the fight against war and disease.

Based on the understanding of poverty presented above, after the First Forum of the GNRC in May 2000, we determined through dialogue that a key priority of the GNRC would be working to eradicate the vicious cycle of poverty, primarily through education. In the two years since, people of various faiths have at their own initiative followed up on the First Forum by holding international and national GNRC conferences, workshops, dialogues and meetings to plan concrete interfaith action to battle poverty and the violations of children’s rights associated with it. These dialogues and best-practice planning sessions have already taken place in the major world regions of South Asia, Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the Middle East, and a conference is planned for Europe in 2002. We have witnessed the spontaneous formation of the South Asian GNRC Regional Network, the East and Southern Africa Network of Religions for Children (EASNRC), and the Indian GNRC National Working Group, all of which are made up of people of faith who have come together to take action to assist children in their struggle for freedom from poverty.

Our goals and plans for specific action against poverty on the global, regional and national levels will be formulated even more specifically at the three-day GNRC Conference to be held here in New York immediately following the Special Session on Children.

3.    Propel Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Contribute to the Global Movement for Children

As we join the worldwide effort to realize the goals of the Outcome Document, we will do our utmost to exercise our leadership and set an example among the people, seeking to generate a universal moral force that will propel implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – in both developed and developing countries – and mobilizing people from all walks of life to contribute to the Global Movement for Children.

It is our faith in action which calls us on this occasion to stress again the significance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since first formulated in the Preamble to the Declaration of Geneva adopted by the League of Nations in 1924, the concept of the rights of the child has stood forth as one of humanity’s most compelling moral beacons. That Declaration stated simply and profoundly, “Mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give.”

Today, as the 21st century begins in tragedy and suffering, our debt has indeed come due. And we believe that one of the best things humanity has to give to our children is the realization that the human dignity of each child originates in the Divine Presence that is the source of our being.

We commit ourselves to doing our utmost to ensure that this common insight of our many faiths is realized in practices in our religious communities – and in our secular societies – practices that help to achieve full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, everywhere in the world. It is a moral obligation for us to provide an environment that enables children to fully explore their innate potential with human dignity, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the major vehicle to accomplish this essential task.

We affirm that, as religious people, we have a unique and essential role to play in the Global Movement for Children. The greatest challenge of the movement will in fact not be engaging the established leaders of the international community, the Heads of State and leaders of international organizations. Rather, it will be securing the passionate involvement of all the people – in every sector, at every level – businesspeople, academics, people at NGOs, and ordinary individuals everywhere.

However, as worldwide religious cooperation continues to grow, we have high expectations of the intrinsic gift and mission of people of faith to bridge all kinds of gaps, including the often unfortunate distance between United Nations discourse and the ordinary people that make the world go around. We pledge, all the while inspired by our commitment to the Divine mandates of justice, peace and love, to communicate the agenda of the international community to grassroots people around the globe, and to bring back their voice to the leaders of nations and international organizations. In this sense, we believe that modern people of faith are uniquely poised to provide energy, impetus and authenticity to the Global Movement for Children.

We, members of the GNRC, stand prepared to carry the new vision and commitment to children articulated at this Special Session to the grassroots level, delivering it also, importantly, to the children themselves – for surely they must be among the most vital actors in shaping the future. There could be few callings more worth our every effort than to serve as a core resource and central actor in the implementation of the Convention and the advance of the Global Movement for Children, helping to realize the world fit for children which the Outcome Document advocates, and creating a better environment for children, which the GNRC has as its stated mission.

That mission is articulated in the Prospectus for the Establishment of the Global Network of Religions for Children, which states: “The Arigatou Foundation, founded by Myochikai, hereby advocates the establishment of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) to provide a venue for individuals or organizations working for the good of children to unite and cooperate with one another with the aim of realizing a world where children can grow up in health and freedom. This advocacy has its origin in the view that the most valuable asset we can create and pass on to the future generation is an environment in which all children can grow up safely – filled with confidence, love and joy.”

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It is imperative that we, as people of faith and believers in the spiritual force of goodness and love, place before the international community assembled at this Special Session on Children a sincere appeal for the restoration of human dignity through the practice of respect and compassion in our world. We maintain that the action to be taken for children as a result of this Special Session requires a guiding frame, a moral and spiritual perspective of a single and interdependent human family, of one richly varied but composite and unified mosaic of a single world, of a shared and common humanity that accords equal respect and equal worth to every child regardless of where that child lives, the language the child speaks, or the culture to which the child belongs. The manifesto we will receive from this Special Session of the General Assembly must truly be a manifesto for a “World Fit for Children”- all children.

Many of the goals of the past decade have not been achieved. We cannot let another decade pass with promises forgotten. If poverty is inexcusable, how can we let it persist – Not only faith, but also justice, demands that the best interests of the child, of all children, must come first. This cannot happen unless we agree to invest in children together. We speak in the faith that we will all rise to the call of this moment.

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As people of faith, we see the Divine Presence in every person, and thus it is our obligation to encourage each person, with patience and compassion, to realize the highest potential of the human heart. It is this Divine Presence – and this great potential – which are the eternal wellspring of the dignity of every child – indeed, of every one of us.

Through the three principal courses of action promised in this statement, we shall devote ourselves to bringing about – through prayer and practice – a global “silent spiritual revolution” for a future of well-being for the children of the world.

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